Thinking of starting up an embroidery business

Embroidery is a popular hobby all over the world, so it’s no surprise that many people think of turning their much-loved needlecraft into a business. For most people this seems like just a dream, but with the right advice, the right machinery, and proper training, anyone can start an embroidery business.

Embroidery can be a very profitable business to get in to, especially when you plan to embroider and sell clothing direct to the public. In addition, it’s not only individuals that you can target for sales. Many local businesses have seen the sense in putting their staff in embroidered clothing; a company logo on a staff member’s polo shirt is an excellent way of advertising, raises staff morale, and gives a workforce a sense of togetherness. Clubs, groups, schools, restaurants all need embroidered products.

As with any business, starting in the embroidery business will involve some initial outlay. The main cost of your embroidery business, when starting, will be an embroidery machine and digitising software if you want to be able to produce the logo designs yourself. Other factors need to be considered before deciding on your choice of machine.

Embroidery Designs - To digitise yourself or Outsource

Digitisation is the process of converting a text or graphic into a format that can be read by an embroidery machine. To create an embroidery design you need digitising software. This allows you to redraw a logo and separate the individual areas of colour so that it can be stitched by the embroidery machine. Software packages can vary from basic packages which are free to sophisticated commercial products that can cost £10,000.

The alternative is to subcontract the digitising of embroidery designs to an outside service who typically charge £3 to £5 per 1000 stitches to produce an embroidery design. The way this would work is that you would e-mail a logo to the digitiser. After converting the artwork they would send you back the digitised file that can be read by the embroidery machine.

The choice of how embroidery is digitised is critical to any embroidery business. A badly digitised embroidery design will look bad irrespective of how good your embroidery machine is. A logo digitised by someone that doesn’t understand the embroidery process will lead to higher costs to the embroiderer through thread breakages and reduced efficiency.

If you are serious about embroidery you need to know how you are going to handle digitisation.

Where to operate from

You need to decide how much time you will be devoting to your new venture. If you intend working a few hours a day, as a part-time side income, you would be well advised to work from home, if you have the space. On the other hand, if your embroidery business will be a full-time job, you may want to consider finding business premises.

Of course, each option has its good and bad sides.

Working from home allows you to work when you please. You also have no extra costs. However, you may have business calls at all times of day and night, which can be very difficult to control, and unless your home has a large spare room, you will be limited to a smaller machine. Another thing to consider is disturbances from family, friends and other visitors when you are trying to work. Also depending at what time of day you decide to work you need to consider the impact of the noise from an embroidery machine on the people and pets around you.

Letting a business premises has many advantages. You can chose the right size workshop for your needs, and only have to take calls during your stated business hours. It will be your workshop, and many people find they work better in a proper workplace than they do in their own homes. If you can find a workshop in a busy street, you will also generate more interest in your embroidery business, just by being visible to the public. One of the biggest disadvantages of running an embroidery business from a commercial premise is the extra costs. You will have to pay rent, electricity, and water rates for the premises. You will also have to work set hours; no one likes to trade with a business that is frequently closed during advertised opening hours.

You will need to decide how big you want your new enterprise to be, how much you can afford as an initial start-up investment towards your embroidery business, and whether you wish to work fixed or flexible hours.

Choosing an embroidery machine type

You will need to consider the type of machine you choose very carefully. Your chosen machine will be the backbone of your business, so you should look for the best quality embroidery machine you can afford. You can either buy or lease, and the machine may be new or used, but if a cheap embroidery machine is used, frequent breakdowns can quickly bring you new embroidery business to a screeching halt.

Other than the choice between buying, renting, new and used, there is also the choice of machine type. Commercial embroidery machines come with single or multiple heads, and your choice here will depend on the size of the orders you are expecting to take. If you intend making one-off, custom embroidery items, such as personalised gifts, a single head machine will be suitable. However, if you expect regular orders for multiple items of the same design, such as logo embroidery, or other business embroidery, a four or six head machine would be more suitable.

Multiple head embroidery machines cut down running cost per item by reducing the time required to produce multiple items. An order for ten embroidered garments can be done on a single head embroidery machine, but at a higher cost to you and your customer.

If you are uncertain of your prospective order sizes, start with a single head machine. If larger orders become the norm for your business, you can always invest in a multiple head machine, and keep the single head machine aside, for samples, small orders and to cover breakdowns.

Another choice of machine is a modular configuration. These can have modular heads added as your business grows, and allow for customised head configuration.

A modular embroidery machine would be suitable if you are expecting slow, but steady growth of your business, can afford a more expensive machine, and want the convenience of a customisable embroidery machine.

In addition, consider the types of item you are going to be embroidering, and chose an embroidery machine that can accommodate hoops of the appropriate size.

After choosing the type of embroidery machine you intend using, the next thing to consider is a supplier, and brand. Often, manufacturers of commercial embroidery machines market and retail there own machines, and with the larger, better-known manufacturers, such as Baruden, Tajima, Brother and Toyota, quality is almost guaranteed. Of course, the extra quality supplied by these manufacturers has its price, but also ensures your business has less idle time waiting for repairs. Most suppliers of quality embroidery machines offer technical support and full training in the set up and use of their machines. Although embroidery machines are easy to use, you would be well advised to seek training in your chosen machine, as the quicker you learn to use it, the quicker you can turn a profit.

Optimising work time

Obviously, the quicker you can produce quality merchandise, the quicker you can pass completed goods on to buyers, and the quicker you can accept more orders.

To achieve this, setting up your workspace to optimize time can help.

From start to finish, producing an embroidered item will involve several stages. You will need to set up the design and thread colours on your machine, hoop the garment, embroider it, un-hoop it, remove the backing and loose threads, and then package the finished item.

This all sounds very time consuming, and poor organisation of your workspace can make it so. By setting out your machine and benches to minimize movement, and allow for multi-tasking, the total time taken from picking up the un-embroidered garment, to packaging the finished product, can be drastically reduced.

The central component of your setup should be your machine. You should also have two benches, one to the left, and one to the right, in a ‘U’ shaped configuration. If your machine does not come with a storage drawer for threads, these can be stored on a rack on the wall, above the left bench. Your hoops should also be stored under or above the left bench.

The worker stands centrally in the ‘U’ shape. Then it is simply a case of hooping the garment on the left bench, embroidering, and then finishing and packaging the item on the right bench. In this way, there is minimal movement, speeding up the process, and reducing worker fatigue.

By organising workspace in this way, you can increase worker speed, decrease worker fatigue, and finish jobs quicker. This means more output per machine, and more scope for taking extra orders, without compromising quality of work, or worker morale.

Machinery components

There are several items you will need to get your machine running.

Firstly, you cannot embroider without thread. Two thread types are commonly used for embroidery, rayon and polyester. Rayon is the easiest to use, being more forgiving of improper tensions and timing, but only has a shelf life of around 5 years, and is prone to thread breaks due to humidity and moisture damage.

Polyester has become the better alternative. Although at one time it lacked the sheen of rayon, and had a tendency to be stiff, today’s polyester has the look and suppleness of rayon, but with greater tensile strength. One possible downside of polyester is a tendency to draw in and pucker, if tensioned too much

The choice of thread is an individual one, and trying both before coming to a decision is the easiest way to decide which you find easiest to work with.

Needles come in a variety of sizes, each suited to different fabrics. The most commonly used are the round sharp (R) and the fine ball point (SES). Sharps are used mainly for woven materials, and ball points for knitted materials. A medium ball point (SUK) works better for some knitted materials, and a thin ball point (SES) is sometimes suitable for both knitted and woven fabrics. You should avoid using sharps on knitted fabric, as they have a tendency to rip holes in the material. Fabrics such as leather need an extra sharp needle, such as an acute point (SPI).

Backing is required to give necessary properties to a material, usually not native to the chosen fabric. Woven goods are strong in the warp and fill (vertical and horizontal respectively) directions, but weak in the bias (diagonal) direction, and knitted fabrics cannot support the thread tension in any direction. Tear-away and cut-away backing material is available, and each is useful for a particular material. Cut-away is used for knitted material, and sometimes for large areas of color on woven material. Tear-away is used in several layers for other woven fabrics such as logo embroidery.

The last components required for your machine are the hoops, which comes in a variety of sizes for different garments. These are what keeps the material taught, ensuring an accurate, neat stitch. As trying to handle the fabric, backing material and hoops at the same time can be difficult, hooping fixtures are available, which make hooping easier, and allow accurate placement of the fabric and backing on the hoop.

The tension on the hoop should be carefully adjusted; too tight and the fabric may be damaged, too loose and the fabric may fall out under the tension of the stitching.

What to embroider

Many types of embroidery can be done for retail, and they are all profitable.

In addition, many items can be embroidered onto. Caps, polo shirts, T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts and shirts are just some of the items of clothing your embroidery business will regularly work with. Towels, blankets, throws, handkerchiefs and even dog coats can also be embroidered, and these items are often requested as personalized items for gifts.

Logo embroidery is a good way to make a quick profit from small, fast designs. Logo embroidery is something mainly done in bulk. Sports teams, fast food restaurants and charities are just some of the customers that may require logo embroidery.

Other types of business also require embroidery work. Business embroidery can be for many types of company. Hotels regularly send orders for business embroidery. Towels, robes and other items are often personalized with hotel logos, and mainly in the case of country hotels, pictures of the hotel itself. Business embroidery doesn’t always involve logo embroidery. Promotional merchandise is also a possibility. Zoos may require sweatshirts with embroidered animals, and many hobby clubs may require caps and sweatshirts featuring things such as cars, animals, planes, and almost anything else you can think of.

Of course, you may also have orders other than business embroidery. The public are also a good source of work. People requiring personalised gifts are a good source of income, and you will find that over the Christmas period, this area of your business will increase.

This does not in any way mean you should restrict yourself to doing work to order only. If you know there will be a good trade in embroidered towels, handkerchiefs, bed linen, caps, or any other item in your area, you can simply produce a variety of items, and then market them.

Marketing your own goods

This can be done in several ways. If you are lucky enough to let a workshop with shop attached, you can sell yourself. This will require extra work and responsibility on your part, and possibly involve hiring staff, but in the right area, can easily be turned into a very profitable embroidery business.

Another way is to advertise your goods, either online, or in local shops, newspapers and magazines. This is usually quite cheap, and can be a very cost effective way of setting up a distance selling business. Naturally, advertising on the internet may gain you customers from anywhere in the country, and you will have to charge the cost of shipping and packaging to the customer. This can involve regular trips to the post office, or finding a reliable courier, but the extra orders you could gain from these forms of advertising far outweigh the inconvenience of the extra work involved.

For even better visibility, instead of just advertising, you could set up your own online shop. These are available from many companies online, and you can either design a site yourself, or pay for a professionally built site. Bear in mind however, that the better the site looks, the more chance there is of people buying from you. Again, this will require advertising, but there are many websites where you can hire a variety of services, such as placement in search engines, search engine optimization, and even freelance writers that can write professional articles for placement in appropriate forums and websites, all of which help draw in new customers.

In conclusion

As with most businesses, your new Embroidery business will not provide an instant return, but with a bit of patience and willingness to learn, and by building a reputation for quality and reliability, you could soon find yourself blessing the day you begun your new venture.

Good luck with your new embroidery business!

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